Phillip Stearns & the Year of the Glitch
This month, Tumblr took part in a project called Art Takes Times Square, where Artists Wanted gave us the opportunity to feature a Tumblr artist on a Times Square billboard. We chose Phillip Stearns from Year of the Glitch. Tonight (Monday, June 18, 7-11pm), check out Stearns’ “DCP Series” far larger than life above the Times Square crowds (plus a performance by Twin Shadow). Stearns lives in Brooklyn and works out of a studio in Bushwick. He currently has work available at Eyebeam and showing at Camera Club New York. Before you go though, wouldn’t it be enlightening to learn just how Stearns creates his work?
Having grown up in the 1980s, just as computers and video game consoles were beginning to enter our lives the term “glitch” has been an omnipresent part of my everyday vocabulary. I’ve mainly understood it as a brief malfunction in electronics that quickly ends, though Wikipedia suggests that this more properly describes glitches in computers, but not other electronics devices and processes such as video games. Either way we have an example of an artist creating art of the “errors” in a system designed according to certain specifications. Fittingly he makes “glitch music”, a form of electronic music that is built out of the deformities in sound generation equipment, from vinyl to CDs, Wikipedia links it to the musical ideas of the Futurist movement, but I much more like the idea of an artform built out of a series of purposefully arranged “errors.”
Of course a bit part of my musical education was punk rock and post-punk: music made by amateurs who didn’t know the “right” way to play or wanted to completely disregard that aspect of it. This movement spawned a guitarist who was in an early version of the Clash named Keith Levene who was a devotee of prog-guitar virtuoso Steve Howe. However, while Levene didn’t hate prog as many punks did (or claim to have the more I unearth the dodgy history of the movement) he did feel that yes prog had run it’s course and it was worth listening to one’s mistakes. The result was the skronking, scrapping guitar noise that graced early Public Image Ltd. recording’s such as “Death Disco”. Though it crops up even the dinosaur bands punk was supposed to replace. When 60s folk-rock band the Byrds entered the studio to track their first single, the engineer being deathly frightened that his equipment would be ruined by that evil, evil rock’n’roll ran everything the band was doing through compressors. The result was the sustained, chiming guitar sound you hear on “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Error and misdirected intentions leading to artistic innovation.
It’s shame I’m stuck all the way here up in the Canadian prairies rather than NYC, because I would have greatly enjoyed walking into the camera club to get a load of Mr. Sterns’ beautiful errors.